There is nothing more frustrating for a competitor or client than making great progress and then having to travel for work unexpectedly, or even having to go on a vacation. Most people can “lock in” quite easily when their daily structure is black and white and quite routine, but travel can cause a lot of anxiety. I get a lot of questions involving how to best deal with diet while away from home. I have dealt with a lot of travel and many a vacation during my tenure as a bodybuilder and trainer. I have also dealt with some of the same anxieties, and I have come to a system that I feel is the best way to deal with being out of your routine and not having complete control over your dieting options. I am going to list the options that I feel are best so that you can stay tight with your diet and either still progress or at the very least minimize damage control upon your return home.
Vacationing is probably the most difficult time to stay on your diet. Vacation, by definition, is taking time away from your usual routine to enjoy yourself, your family, your down time, and not have to do the things you do at home such as work, deal with stress, eat your normal or mundane meals, etc. If you vacation at a resort, your food options are going to be limited to what is available to you. Food at a resort has to taste good or you won’t want to spend the money to come back. To make food taste good, that food is almost always going to be cooked with fat and carbs. Why? Because fat and carbs taste good. Even chicken breast or white fish will typically be cooked in some kind of breading and fat to take the taste to the next level. Asking for a plain chicken breast is not usually an option because food is cooked in bulk.
The best thing you can do in situations like this is to ask how the food is cooked first. Even breaded chicken breast or white fish will usually be baked in large ovens to provide enough food to feed large amounts of people at a resort or even on a cruise. If the food is baked, the fat content will usually be lower and you can then pick the breading and/or sauce off the meat as best you can, leaving a lean protein option. I do something similar when I take our family on cruises. I can almost always count on a white fish option in a tomato-based sauce with breading, and I get a large plate and separate the fish from the breading and sauce. These types of options are usually provided in cafeteria or buffet-style fashion.
For breakfast, lunch, and dinner options where you have the ability to choose from a menu and be served at a table, always go with a protein and vegetable option if you are trying to maintain your diet. Even though they will likely cook the protein and vegetables in added fat for flavor, you are better off with some additional fat than combining carbs with the fat. It isn’t common to hide carbs in foods like meat and vegetables, but it is quite common to hide fat in carb sources like potatoes, rice, bread, etc. Avoid carbs in situations like these and you will be much better off. This advice also applies if you have the option of eating out for your vacation (or while traveling) at restaurants.
If you are traveling for work or to visit family, you stand a much better chance of staying on track with your diet if you can cook your own food when you get to your destination. Packing enough food in Tupperware to get you to your destination will keep your meals structured until you arrive and can then hit the grocery store and prepare all of your meals just as you would at home. A small cooler bag can carry three to four prepared meals quite easily and keep them from going bad until you can prepare future meals after you arrive. If you are concerned about the meals keeping until you arrive (due to long travel times), you can always pack protein like tuna packets, fats like nuts, and carb sources like baked sweet potatoes or even shredded wheat biscuits. Protein powder packed in single-serving Ziploc snack bags travels quite well, too (though fine white powder might get you a free TSA cavity check).
Cooking your meals after you arrive at your destination is the most ideal situation, but not everyone wants to destroy their family’s kitchen shortly after arriving. In this case, the best option is the one that I have predominantly used for years myself: buying prepared foods after arriving. There are a lot of grocery stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and even local grocery store chains that provide protein sources like chicken breast and beef (steak) that are already cooked. Vegetable salads and quinoa or rice salads are quite commonly available as well. These foods are a healthy alternative, and though you will pay more for these prepared foods, the convenience and time saved can be a nice tradeoff. Most all of these prepared foods have a list of ingredients that you can ask to see if you are concerned about ingredients. Prepared foods will last three to five days if refrigerated, so one or two trips to a store like this while traveling for a week can be a very easy way to stay on your diet.
Or you can do as I sometimes do and treat a vacation like a vacation. That means you take a break from everything that is at home and eat like a glutton and simply enjoy the downtime, opting to clean up the mess when you get home. Though I don’t encourage this option with my clients, I would be lying if I said that I haven’t used this approach from time to time. Sometimes a break is a good thing, and eating like a hog with your family can motivate you that much more when you return home to get right back on your diet and get back to the mundane eating of bland chicken boobs and vegetables.
If you are vacationing in a place where it is sunny and you will be running around most of the time during the day with your shirt off and want to look good during the day but still enjoy good food, here is a tip for you that I employ while cruising with my family: Eat a light breakfast of protein and fat and a light lunch of the same, while making sure to get plenty of water all day. The smaller meals without carbs will allow you to minimize distention and bloat, and then when the sunny day is done and you put on regular clothes for dinner, you can have a larger meal with carbs and even dessert. If you distend from the dinner, no one will notice because you aren’t poolside in a bathing suit until the next day.
By the time the morning rolls around, your distention is gone and you are back to drinking plenty of water and having only small protein and fat meals until dinnertime. This will work for most people for about four or five days. At that time your condition might start to slide a little bit, but you only have one or two days left of vacation. We can’t all look buff for the entire week poolside, but five out of seven days isn’t too bad. Plus, if you vacation on a cruise ship, almost everyone is fat anyway, so you will still look great even if you are distended a bit by the end of the week. Just Sayin'.